04 July 2007

Thank Gods for the fairer sex

Sandy Evans’ gig got me thinking about women in jazz. I’m from a feminist era when differences were debunked. The fight was around equal pay for equal work, so the argument promoted parity. Yes, there was some awareness of difference, but the differences between sexes or cultures or social groups were seen as outweighed by individual differences. Dominant women and gentle men countered traditional stereotypes. Normal distributions overlapped to a degree that highlighted likeness where now we see difference. So I find it hard to ascribe differences beyond social conditioning. But still I’ve got a suspicion that women’s jazz is different, and the jazz of the trio led by Sandy Evans at the Gods last night was my latest subject of research.

This was a band of intense concentration, frequent joy, authentic interactions and clear, melodic conceptions. It’s this feeling of story telling, of melodic honesty and a true improvisational closeness to the underlying tune, perhaps of a lack of male bravado, that seemed on display in this music. Sandy had been written up in that day’s Canberra Times, and was quoted on the differences between male and female student improvisors at the Sydney Con, so perhaps it was just on my mind.

The band played in various styles - swing, rock, blues, calypso, jump jazz. The night was mostly originals, mainly composed by Sandy, I think, but there was also involvement by Brett. They played two standards: If I were a bell, and a rendition of that glorious gospel-drenched Ellington tune, Come Sunday. Any trio format is limited in options for sounds and solos, so the tunes were mostly heads by Sandy, perhaps unison with Brett, then sax and bass solos. There were several drum interludes. But the soloing was honest and true, and that’s not to say it didn’t display plenty of chops. It did, but it didn’t overwhelm the musicality.

There was some gentle amusement that raised some chuckles. Sandy offered Miles albums for sale along with her own (surprisingly funny at the time). And again, when we expected her to comment on a title, she seemed to think twice and said instead “That’s all you need to know”. And there was a musical game called One for Harry which involved Toby controlling the tune by blowing a whistle. As I remember, one blast signalled the end of a passage in 2 bars, sometimes with a mighty flourish, and 2 blasts signalled the drum solo. Apparently his 7 year old son had taken the whistle days before, but he wasn’t available on the night, so Dad got the job. There was also some seriousness. Sandy spoke of a recent tour in the North and how aboriginal kids were going to school, and presented a much more positive image than we’re being fed during this election-aware, post-Tampa national emergency.

Individually, their performances were a joy. Sandy plays authentic melodies on soprano and tenor saxes, and searching solos, in and out of tonality but not palpably so. She mentioned Joe Henderson as an inspiration. Brett plays with a heavy tone and in close relationship to Sandy; always expressive on that most clumsy of instruments. His were some great solos which were always true to form and tune. Toby could be busy or ecstatic, but again, always locked in expression with the others. These were three equal parts of a balanced mix.

The Sandy Evans Trio comprises Sandy Evans (soprano & tenor saxes), Brett Hirst (bass), Toby Hall (drums). They gave us a night where the whole exceeded the sum of the parts. A true and honest expression of modern jazz in Australia.
  • Sandy Evans Trio website
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